21 posts categorized "Juvenile Justice"

5 Questions for...Tanya Coke, Director, Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice, Ford Foundation

June 05, 2019

Tanya Coke has been involved in issues of criminal justice, mass incarceration, and immigration for more than thirty years. First as a researcher at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, then as a trial attorney in the Legal Aid Society‘s Federal Defender Division, and now as director of Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice at the Ford Foundation, Coke has been actively engaged in public interest law and social justice issues and, at Ford, leads a team focused on harnessing the resources and commitment needed to combat inequality based on gender, race, class, disability, and ethnicity.

PND spoke with Coke about the foundation’s efforts to reduce the U.S. prison population, decouple the criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems, and protect a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

Headshot_tanya_cokePhilanthropy News Digest: Your work with the Legal Aid Society, the Open Society Institute, and the U.S. Human Rights Fund has given you the kind of frontline exposure to the criminal justice system that few people ever get. You've said you hope to use your platform at the Ford Foundation to help reduce the U.S. prison population by 20 percent by 2022. What makes you believe that goal is achievable? And what kinds of things can the foundation do over the next few years to make that goal a reality?

Tanya Coke: When I began researching criminal justice issues in the late 1980s, politicians from both parties were falling over themselves to out-tough the other on crime. It is widely believed that Michael Dukakis lost the 1988 election over a flubbed debate answer over whether he would consider the death penalty if his wife were raped. It would have been hard to imagine back then that presidential candidates in 2020 would be competing to see who has the most progressive criminal justice reform platform.

That gives me hope and makes me believe we can make significant progress in taming the beast that is mass incarceration in America. Bipartisan momentum for reform is happening because of a confluence of several factors: low crime rates, tight state budgets, and a much greater understanding of how mass incarceration has decimated families and communities and made us all less safe. It is not a window that will remain open forever, however, so while it is open we have to work harder and more effectively to change not just minds about what we're doing but also hearts. That requires narrative change. It requires smart policy advocacy. And it requires more organizing in communities that are most impacted by mass incarceration.

The other thing that makes me feel optimistic is that we have seen prison populations in states like California, New York, and New Jersey drop by more than 30 percent in recent years, and in the past two years we've seen incarceration rates drop by more than 10 percent in very conservative states like Louisiana and Oklahoma. That gives me confidence we can achieve significant reductions in the incarceration rate in other states as well.

But it's not enough to focus on state prison populations. We also have to look at what’s happening in local jails, where people typically serve sentences of less than a year. While state prison populations are coming down, jail populations in many places are rising. To address the situation, we've been focusing on bail reform. Bail needlessly leads to the incarceration of people who shouldn’t be in jail, particularly poor people who don't have the wherewithal to pay cash bail. We're seeing growing awareness of that fact and momentum building across the country to do something about it. Another example is our work to effect broader change in the usual narratives about crime and criminal justice. That work takes the form of support for journalism projects, partnerships with Hollywood, and efforts to leverage other kinds of storytelling platforms, with a focus on trying to re-humanize people who are in the system and imagining a different approach to public safety.

PND: Many people have come to see the criminal justice system in the U.S. as an institutional manifestation of white supremacy. Is that an accurate characterization? And where are we as a society in terms of identifying and dismantling structural barriers to real racial equity and justice?

TC: That is the real work. There is no question that mass incarceration is driven by structural racism. To some degree it was set off by rising crime rates in the 1980s, but more than anything it has been powered by racial fear and a deep-seated instinct toward racial control of surplus labor. In my opinion, mass incarceration would not have been possible during the era of slavery because black bodies were too valuable as property in the South to let them sit idle in jail. Mass incarceration also was not possible in the 1940s or 1950s, the heyday of American manufacturing, again because black labor was needed to keep the auto factories and steel mills humming. But mass incarceration does become possible in the 1980s, after many of those manufacturing jobs had been shipped overseas and, suddenly, lots of people in black communities were forced into the underground economy of drug selling, which in turn led to a heightened, racialized fear of crime. Mass incarceration was a response not only to the advances of the civil rights movement, but also to the hollowing out of industries that employed blacks, and the racial fears that both spawned. In general, police are not comfortable with idle black men on street corners, and that fact accelerated the instinct to warehouse them in prison.

You have only to look at the difference in per capita incarceration rates in heavily black states like Louisiana, where eight hundred people per hundred thousand are incarcerated, and a homogeneous, largely white state like Vermont, where the rate is three hundred people per hundred thousand. Vermont is a state heavily affected by the opioid abuse epidemic, and yet it has made the choice not to incarcerate drug users or sellers at anything like the rate that prevails in states with large black populations such as Louisiana or Mississippi. Vermont is more inclined to treat opiod abuse as a public health problem.

In general, I think our field has not thought enough about the relationship between criminal justice, the control of labor, and the many ways in which black people in the United States have, in effect, become surplus labor. This has implications for social control as well as the rise of corporate interests that are profiting from mass incarceration. It's an under-studied area, and one where we need more research and advocacy to ensure that vulnerable people are reintegrated in a meaningful way into the economy.

Continue reading »

5 Questions for...James Cadogan, Vice President of Criminal Justice, Arnold Ventures

March 27, 2019

Arnold Ventures (formerly the Laura and John Arnold Foundation) has been a leading supporter of criminal justice reform since 2011. Under the leadership of James Cadogan, vice president of criminal justice, the organization recently launched the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice, a community of practice involving more than two dozen Arnold Ventures grantees working to eliminate unnecessary and unjust detention practices, with new investments totaling $39 million.

Cadogan joined the organization after serving as the inaugural director of the Thurgood Marshall Institute at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and as a counselor to the attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he helped design comprehensive federal reentry reforms; served as a lead staffer on an initiative to reduce the use of solitary confinement at the Federal Bureau of Prisons; developed national community policing initiatives; and supported access to justice programs.

PND asked Cadogan about the initiative's goals, the emerging field of pretrial justice reform, and the role of pretrial justice reform in advancing racial equity.

James Cadogan_PhilanTopic_squarePhilanthropy News Digest: Your organization is on record as saying "money bail obscures legally required risk analyses, traps people in jail, and contributes to unconscionable racial and economic disparities in our justice system." How does the cash bail system exacerbate the mass incarceration of people of color? And how central to the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice is the goal of advancing racial and economic equity?

James Cadogan: A fundamental principle of our justice system is the presumption of innocence: the idea that, when accused of a crime, you are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But across the country — right now — there are hundreds of thousands of people sitting in jail who haven't been convicted of any crime, nearly half a million at any given moment. They haven't even been tried. That's because of our current system of money bail.

Generally, after an individual is arrested they go before a judge who reads the charges and sets bail — an amount of money that the arrestee must pay in order to be set free. If you can pay that money, you go free; if you can't afford it, you go to jail. In other words, the size of your bank account determines your freedom. Simply put: that is unjust.

To avoid jail, those who can't afford to pay the bail amount directly might turn to a bail bondsman who can post the amount with the court while charging the individual a fee, often 10 percent of the bail amount. But if bail is set at $2,000, many people are equally unable to afford the $200 fee a bondsman would charge as the $2,000 bail imposed by the court. The money bail system discriminates against the poor — and people of color are disproportionately poor. Research has also shown that people of color are treated more harshly within the money bail system: for example, African-American men on average receive 35 percent higher bail amounts than white men who are arrested for the exact same crime.

PND: Arnold Ventures, formerly the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, has supported pretrial justice reform since 2011 — support that has included efforts to increase transparency around and the use of validated, evidence-based risk assessments in judges' decisions to release or detain defendants. Beyond strengthening implementation of the Public Safety Assessment— which was created from a database of more than 1.5 million cases in over three hundred jurisdictions — what is the partnership planning to do to reduce "unnecessary and unjust detention"?

JC: Pretrial detention rates are driven by a number of decisions and processes under the control of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, court administrators, and other system actors and stakeholders. The National Partnership intentionally connects and elevates partners with different types of expertise — for example, research, policy development, or litigation — and supports them in taking on projects that span a range of pretrial justice challenges such as evaluating the impact of bail practices, working to expand the use of prosecutorial diversion that moves people out of the criminal just system, or undertaking advocacy related to the impossible caseloads many public defenders face.

Pretrial justice practices and operations vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so the breadth of the work we support to reduce unjust pretrial detention is important: National Partnership initiatives span four hundred counties across thirty-five states. At this pivotal time in the pretrial justice reform movement, it's important to understand that even though experts nationwide may have different approaches and don't agree on everything, they're all committed to the same end goal: reducing our unconscionable rates of pretrial detention. By supporting a diversity of efforts, we can help harness that momentum in a variety of places and spaces across the country and give ourselves the best chance of bringing about lasting policy change in pretrial justice. That's where see the biggest value of the partnership.

Continue reading »

A Conversation With Kavitha Mediratta, Executive Director, Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity

February 09, 2018

Chattel slavery — a practice (and later institution) in which enslaved Africans and African Americans were bought, sold, or traded as property at the whim of their "owners" — was common in British America from the earliest colonial days. Gaining a foothold in the tobacco country of Virginia and Maryland in the seventeenth century and spreading north and south from there, it was well established in the mid-Atlantic and South by the time of independence, reinforced, as historian Ira Berlin writes, by a regime of violence that was "systemic and relentless; the planters’ hegemony required that slaves stand in awe of their owners. Although they preferred obedience to be given rather than taken, planters understood that without a monopoly of firepower and a willingness to employ terror, plantation slavery would not long survive."

The violence employed by the slaveholding class to protect and extend its authority was, as Berlin notes, buttressed by special judicial codes, the courts (including the Supreme Court), and the U.S. Constitution itself. As the institution grew in scale and scope in the nineteenth century, driven in part by the invention of the cotton gin, which greatly boosted the profitability of cotton as a crop, and the outlawing of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the slaveholding class stepped up its efforts to promote ideologies that justified the institution’s existence — as well as the brutality and means, judicial and extra-judicial, used to maintain it.

While these explicitly racist attitudes were, as Eric Eustace Williams has argued, a consequence of slavery rather than its cause, their regrettable persistence has caused incalculable damage to American society, infected countries such as South Africa — which continues to struggle with its own history of racial apartheid — and even today divide Americans against each other. Indeed, whether America ever comes to grips with the pernicious legacy of slavery remains an open question.

Recently, PND spoke with Kavitha Mediratta, founding executive director of Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity, a ten-year, $60 million initiative launched by Atlantic Philanthropies, about that question and what her program is doing to support creative leaders dedicated to dismantling anti-black racism in both the United States and South Africa.

Mediratta previously served as chief strategy advisor for equity initiatives and human capital development at Atlantic and before that led the education program at the New York Community Trust and directed school reform programs at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University. She has, in addition, written extensively on race and educational opportunity in the U.S., with a focus on inequalities in school discipline, and has taught in elementary and middle schools in New Jersey, Chicago, and India.

Headshot_kavitha_medirattaPhilanthropy News Digest: How did you get into philanthropy and racial equity work?

Kavitha Mediratta: Well, actually, racial equity work is what led me into philanthropy. I came to the United States with my parents, who are Indian, when I was three, and we settled in a community on Long Island where we were pretty isolated. This was in the 1970s, and we thought America's days as a segregated society were behind it, but that's not really how it was on Long Island when I was growing up, and from an early age I was exposed to some of the contradictions between the idea of America as a place of opportunity for all people, and the way in which black people in America and others who are seen as different often are treated.

As a result, I became interested in racial equity pretty early on. I worked as a teacher and then as an organizer and policy analyst before ending up doing a lot of work with parents and high school students to improve public schools, which I saw as a key locus of opportunity for young people of color but that too often failed to deliver on those opportunities to help children realize their full potential. And it's really the work I did with young people that brought me to philanthropy, and Atlantic [Philanthropies], which had long supported people of color who were working to reform public education, and public institutions more broadly, in America.

PND: What are we talking about when we talk about racial equity? Do you have a definition that informs your day-to-day work?

KM: For us, racial equity is about creating a society in which opportunities and outcomes for people are not defined on the basis of racial categories. But we go a little bit further than equity, in that we talk about dismantling anti-black racism, aka white supremacy, as an important step toward building a truly just and inclusive society. And what we mean by a just and inclusive society is a world in which everyone has the opportun­ities they need not only to thrive, but to be seen fully for who they are, which is an important thing, since, at the moment, only some people in America are seen fully. The question is, How can we build a world in which all people are seen fully for who and what they are, and who are treated with the dignity, respect, and right to self-determination that all members of our national and global community deserve?

Continue reading »

5 Questions for...Lateefah Simon, President, Akonadi Foundation

January 04, 2018

At 40, Lateefah Simon has spent more than half her life as a civil rights advocate and racial justice leader. She was a 17-year-old mother when she went to work for the Center for Young Women's Development and was just 19 when she became the organization's executive director. In the years that followed, she helped position the center as a national leader in the movement to empower young women of color — an achievement for which she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2003. She later led the creation of San Francisco's first reentry services division, headed the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and served as a program director at the Rosenberg Foundation, where she helped launch the Leading Edge Fund in support of the next generation of progressive movement leaders in California.

In 2016, Simon became the second president of Akonadi Foundation, whose mission is "to eliminate structural racism that leads to inequity in the United States." PND spoke with her about the work required to build a movement focused on racial equity — and philanthropy's role in that effort.

Philanthropy News Digest: The Akonadi Foundation, which is headquartered in Oakland, is focused on "building a localized racial justice movement." Why is it important for the racial justice movement to act locally?

Headshot_lateefash_simon_2017Lateefah Simon: What those of us in philanthropy and those working on the ground doing movement-building work know is that many of the racialized policies that have divided communities, from juvenile justice to local policing to school policies, have taken place on the municipal level. We also know that our efforts have to be extremely strategic to undo these policies — for example, the disproportionate overuse of school suspensions and expulsions against black and brown students that has been standard policy for many, many years.

To create racial justice in our communities, we have to go deep — to the source, where the policies come from, and also to the culture. Our work is not just about going after and disrupting racist policy but also about ensuring that all communities of color are working together, understanding that one group's organizing, movement-building, and advocacy work will benefit other groups. If we're fighting for anti-gentrification policies in Chinatown, African-American and Latino communities are going to be able to use those efforts to inform their own organizing, and so on.

PND: The foundation takes an "ecosystem" approach to its grantmaking. What do you mean by ecosystem grantmaking, and why do you believe it's the right approach for your movement at this time?

LS: Five years ago, the Akonadi Foundation set out to envision what Oakland could look like in ten years. Oakland has been a cradle of social movements — and is best known, of course, as the birthplace of the Black Panther Party. There's a historical narrative here around race and the interconnectedness of people of color coming together to defeat horrific racist policies; it's our legacy. In our ambition to create a ten-year period of change, our thought was, even as a small foundation, we need to make grants that address the ecosystem in which "justice" is created and delivered. We know that here in Oakland, for example, we have a responsibility to fund base-building groups that are enlisting people willing to fight back, to fund groups that are going to craft policy prescriptions, and groups that will — when those campaigns have succeeded — ensure implementation of those prescriptions as well as follow-up advocacy and legal oversight of the policies.

And just as importantly, we know that if we are pushing communities to organize and fight campaigns, culture has to be at the center of this work; much of our cultural work as people of color is about staking claim to a city we helped build. So thinking about how change happens, about how the people of Oakland move toward justice — it's broad, and must be led by an "ecosystem" of grant partners who are in movement together.

In 2018, we're going to be engaging our grantees and having them give us a better idea of where we are. The world has completely changed in the last year. And because the world has changed, and the conditions of our city have changed, it's important for us to go back and look at our theory of change and redefine and reexamine how ecosystem grantmaking needs to work.

Continue reading »

Moving the Needle on Youth Violence

March 06, 2017

GeINChicago_thumbnail_CUL-mentor-circleAccording to the Giving USA Foundation and Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Americans gave as generously as ever in 2015, setting a record for the second year in a row with total giving of $373.25 billion. That wasn't enough, however, to prevent problems such as income inequality, racism, and, here in Chicago, gun violence, from becoming even more entrenched. Which is why it is so important for donors and funders to do whatever they can to ensure that their charitable donations are making a measurable difference in addressing these and other challenges.

At Get IN Chicago, we use an evidence-based approach to move the needle on youth violence and, since 2013, have provided feedback and capacity-building support to community-based organizations providing a range of youth-focused services and interventions, from mentoring and parenting programs to community sports leagues and trauma-focused therapy.

Thanks to over two years of research and data collection and our work with more than sixty community organizations, anti-violence experts, and donor partners, we have developed five key recommendations for organizations looking to fund anti-violence initiatives and maximize the impact created by that support. Using these criteria to ensure programs' effectiveness, in 2017 we will be collaborating with more than twenty agencies to bring intensive case management, intake, mentoring, and cognitive behavioral therapy programs to high-risk youth in seven Chicago neighborhoods.

Based on that work, here are our recommendations for funders and donors:

1. Make sure the program you are thinking about funding actually addresses the needs of the target population you want to help. Our research shows that while most anti-violence programs work with at-risk youth, participants in those programs are not all subject to the same type or level of risk (i.e., violence or gang activity). That's why we have worked with programs to focus their efforts specifically on acutely high-risk youth — those at the greatest risk for gun violence, based on such factors as school absenteeism rates, mental health issues, justice system involvement, and the presence of a previously or currently incarcerated parent. Along the way, we've learned that it is essential to clearly define the population you are looking to help — not least because it makes it easier to develop a tailored strategy with respect to recruiting, engaging, and retaining participants from the target group, boosting your chances of success.

Continue reading »

Philanthropy's Responsibility to Listen

March 01, 2017

Juvenile_justice_2_for_PhilanTopicLast month, the Pittsburgh Foundation released a new report, A Qualitative Study of Youth and the Juvenile Justice System: A 100 Percent Pittsburgh Pilot Project, which calls on human services staffs, law enforcement authorities, and school officials to provide youth involved with the juvenile justice system not just a seat but a bench at the table where prevention and diversion programs are shaped and developed.

We expected the report, which builds on a substantial body of research by giants in the field such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to generate dialogue among our regional human services, philanthropic, and academic partners. But we were surprised that it prompted not only a local newspaper editorial but also requests for republication from an international juvenile justice organization in Brussels and a Boston-based journal that covers the nonprofit sector.

As one local advocate put it, "Who knew that talking to people would be so novel?"

The outside attention reinforces what we learned in our direct engagement with young people: their voices, which carry knowledge and authority from personal experience with the system, have been missing from the body of research on the system.

The focus on amplifying the voices of people directly affected is a core value of our 100 Percent Pittsburgh organizing principle, which we adopted in 2015 to address inequality in our region. Despite significant advances in Pittsburgh's economy, at least one-third of the regional population struggles with poverty. Research, including this 2014 Urban Institute study we commissioned, shows that youth between the ages of 12 and 24 and single women raising children are at the top of the list of groups most at risk. Young people with justice system involvement are particularly vulnerable.

Continue reading »

A National Day of Racial Healing on January 17 Will Help Americans Overcome Racial Divisions

January 06, 2017

Share1112-crayonsJust five days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as the country's 45th president, millions of Americans on January 16 will celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For many, memories of the civil rights icon revolve around his momentous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in which Dr. King called for an end to racism and for the expansion of economic opportunities for all Americans.

Dr. King's brilliance — his strategic leadership of the civil rights movement and unparalleled courage and integrity — is often overshadowed by the speech that many scholars hail as the most important public address by an American in the twentieth century. Unfortunately, the dream of equality King articulated in 1963 remains unfulfilled in many communities today — a reality that underscores the persistent structural inequities and racial bias at the root of the widespread disparities in social conditions and opportunities for people of color.

Dr. King said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." That's the America many of us have long been working to create but, despite progress in some areas, are still seeking to realize.

The divisive rhetoric and raw emotions that raged across the country over the past year pulled the scab off a persistent wound in the American psyche, bringing the issue of race front and center and exposing the divides in our society. What can we do about it? How do we move forward on a path toward racial equity that facilitates racial healing, dismantles structural racism, and lifts vulnerable children onto the path to success?

To be sure, America has made progress over the decades. Government and the courts have enacted statutes and rulings, from Brown v. Board of Education to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, that outlawed public discrimination while purportedly guaranteeing equal opportunity for all Americans. Yet, in too many cases, these rulings only addressed the effects of racism, not its foundations. The passage of time has made clear that government and courts can enact and uphold laws, but they can't change hearts, minds, and souls.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (November 26-27, 2016)

November 27, 2016

Wollman-rinkHope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving holiday. This week's roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector is a little shorter than normal. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog.... 

Environment

While the public recognition that comes with high-profile awards can help protect indigenous activists, many fear that the increased visibility is making them easier to target. Barbara Fraser reports for Indian Country.

Interesting profile in the Mount Desert Islander of Roxanne Quimby, the founder of the Burt's Bees natural cosmetics empire and the driving force behind the recently designated 83,000-acre Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine.

Health

Is spending on health care in the U.S. unacceptably high, or are we beginning to "bend the cost curve"? Katherine Hempstead, director and senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shares some data designed to shed some light on an inherently murky situation.

Inequality

In remarks delivered at the OECD Cities for Life Global Summit on Inclusion, Innovation and Resilience on November 22, Ford Foundation president Darren Walker told those in attendance that he believes "inequality is the greatest threat to our society, in part because not only can it lead to violence and extremism at its worst, but by limiting opportunity and mobility, ultimately it generates hopelessness. And that hopelessness makes it harder to believe that change is possible." Worth your time to read the full text of his remarks.

Continue reading »

To Truly Reform Criminal Justice, Policy Makers Must Listen to Crime Survivors

August 31, 2016

The 2016 election campaign season has exposed the deep and bitter divides in our political system. Candidates have put forth vastly different views, and the list of what they agree on seems to be getting shorter by the day. Yet criminal justice reform has become that rare thing — an issue on which many Democrats and Republicans can agree.

Criminal_justice_for_PhilanTopicState and federal policy makers are in the midst of an important conversation about how to reform the criminal justice system. After decades of growth in prison populations and prison spending, it is a conversation that is long overdue. Notably absent from this dialogue, however, are data or research on crime victims' experiences with the criminal justice system or their views on safety and justice policy. Given that politicized perceptions of the best way to protect victims has, in part, driven prison expansion, this absence is glaring. Now is the time to correct the misperceptions that drove the failed policies of the past in order to truly reform the system.

A primary goal of the justice system is to protect and help victims, so any reform effort must incorporate the voices of the victims themselves. That's why the Alliance for Safety and Justice decided to conduct a national survey of crime victims, including those who have suffered extreme violence such as rape or the murder of a family member.

While one might expect victims to overwhelmingly support the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" approach, we found something different. Victims were clear that rehabilitation and crime prevention, not more incarceration, is needed to ensure that fewer people become victims of crime.

Nearly three out of four victims we surveyed told us they believe that time in prison makes people more rather than less likely to commit another crime. Two out of three victims support shorter prison sentences and increased spending on prevention and rehabilitation over long sentences. And by a two-to-one margin, a majority of those surveyed were in favor of policies that emphasize rehabilitation over punishment. Crime survivors also overwhelmingly support investments in new safety priorities that can stop the cycle of crime, such as programs for at-risk youth, mental health treatment, drug treatment, and job training. These views cut across demographic groups, with wide support across race, age, gender, and political party affiliation.

Continue reading »

In Post-Katrina New Orleans, Do Black Lives Really Matter?

August 28, 2015

Katrina_steps_guardianHurricane Katrina laid bare the lack of value attached to black lives in the U.S., a reality that New Orleans residents and the nation are still wrestling with a decade later. Recent events suggest that Americans are at a crossroads in terms of how they think, talk about, and deal with race and racism — but are still a long way from agreeing that black lives do indeed matter.

Ten years after Katrina brought New Orleans to its knees, the outlook for the city's African-American community is as grim as it was before the storm hit. According to the Cowen Institute at Tulane University, an estimated 26,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 in the city are disconnected from education and employment. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, which jails nearly 40,000 people per year (66 percent of whom are African American), as many as one in seven black men in some New Orleans neighborhoods are either in prison, on probation, or on parole. What's more, fully half of all African-American children in New Orleans live in poverty — more than in 2005.

As we mark another anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a fateful turning point in the city's and nation’s history, a critical question remains: How has so much racial and economic inequity been allowed to not only persist but worsen?

Continue reading »

'Under Construction': Alliance for Boys and Men of Color

July 28, 2014

UC_logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit that showcases some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.For more profiles, click here.

Grassroots

Jesse Esparza stands tall as he squints into the afternoon sun.
He doesn't quite fill the dark suit that hangs from his shoulders, and his hands, clasped together before his waist, only half-emerge from their sleeves.

Under-construction-bmoc-jesseBehind him stretches Stockton's Southside, the most distressed section of the most violent city in California. Jesse tells the story of the white ribbon tied at the base of a small oak tree in McKinley Park. It's a tragic story — the senseless murder of a friend's cousin, a teenager caught up in a cycle of retaliation — and his telling is both somber and matter-of-fact. But where the trauma gets particular, he generalizes, describing the way news like this travels on seismic waves through his community. "You're in shock," he explains. "You're in denial, you don't want it to be true. You're hoping it's someone else." Only 18 years old, Jesse has already been through this set of emotions more times than would be fair in a full lifespan. One might say he possesses a wisdom beyond his years, though its acquisition is troubling.

In a quiet moment of reflection, Jesse's eyes search the blades of grass as if for answers. His skin is smooth, almond colored, his face open and strong. He seems to play an image in his mind for a few moments before looking up again, lifting his eyebrows. He reaches for words to fill the silence and lights on a stock phrase. "It's pretty crazy," he says. He repeats this again and again over the next hour, the only words he can find to move past each newly risen memory as a casual drive through his old neighborhood transforms without notice into an impromptu ghost tour. The points of interest form a web of violence, dozens of vague memorials to those friends who will never have a chance, as Jesse has, to break through.

Boys & Men

The day has been a long one. All morning Jesse has been talking change politics with some of the most engaged men and women in the state. It's the Fourth Annual Stockton Summit of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, a decentralized coalition of organizations working at all levels of civic engagement for policy changes that will improve the lives of young Californians. In one report after another, data show young men of color face more systemic barriers than their white peers, making them much more likely to drop out of high school, serve time in prison (or juvenile hall), be unemployed, and ultimately die young. The situation, according to those involved, is dire.

Continue reading »

'Under Construction': System of Care – Clayton County, Georgia

June 17, 2014

Under-construction-logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more profiles, click here.

The doors closed behind Oscar Mayes, stopping him in his tracks. Everything came to a halt and he was alone with his thoughts. He tracked back to the awful mistake that landed him in a detention center in Clayton County, Georgia.

SOC_Oscar MayesThe Mayes of today looks back on that chapter in his life. "You live for a moment, but you never think about your future and how it can come back to haunt you," he says. "Your past can come back to haunt you."

For the 15-year-old Mayes, it didn’t matter whether he looked backward or forward. He was haunted as much by the future as by the past. When was his court appointment? Where would he be transferred next? When would he see his family again? Life's certainties hung by a thread. The prospect of hard prison time loomed in his mind, knocking off future milestones one by one.

Before Clayton County introduced the System of Care and its alternative to youth incarceration, this was a typical scenario for young offenders.

At that point, Mayes's life had been turned upside down. And over the last two decades, Clayton County, located just south of Atlanta, has faced its own upheaval. Atlanta's selection as host city for the 1996 Summer Olympics ushered in a phase of redevelopment and transformation that sent ripples across the metro area. Inner-city housing projects were razed to pave the way for new stadiums and gentrification. Many of the city's displaced headed to the suburbs.

Droves of the county's middle- and upper-income residents responded to the changes by moving. Subsequently, many shops and stores were shuttered. Then the county was rezoned for subsidized housing. Crime rates went up. The community eventually faced a new reality as the poorest county in metro Atlanta with the highest foreclosure rates and the highest rates of free and reduced lunches.

Before the System of Care, the young residents of Jonesboro, Forest Park, and towns across Clayton County could easily get caught up in the juvenile justice system. Georgia's legal code was exceptionally rigid: by committing any one of thirty-plus crimes, an offender became a "designated felon" regardless of whether he was 53 or 13.

Continue reading »

‘Under Construction’: Center for Urban Families - Baltimore, Maryland

February 24, 2014

Under-construction-logoUnder Construction is a multimedia online exhibit showcasing some of the best and brightest organizations working with males of color. The UC team of filmmakers, photographers, writers, and nonprofit experts worked directly with each of these organizations for several weeks. The collaborations yielded comprehensive portraits of the services men of color receive. Each profile features a short video, a photography exhibit, a visual program model, and a narrative essay detailing the efforts of these organizations.

Under Construction is a project of Frontline Solutions and was made possible through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For more profiles, click here.

To learn more about the Center for Urban Families, visit BMAfunders.org.

Joseph Thomas knows how deterioration works. It is the same process for the shuttered blocks of West Baltimore where he was a boy as it is for the man who has no one to talk to. The facades are the last thing to go.

"In prison you have a lot of time to think," says Thomas, who served two years. A quiet, gentle man, he thought about how he had drifted through life since an early age with no one to steer him. Most of all, he thought about his daughters, wondering if he still had a chance to give them what he didn't have, a positive role model. Today, you listen to him talk about his teenage girls, what it means to make it to one of their badminton games, and he almost blushes. He was always in their lives, but he has learned that there are different kinds of presence.

Thomas, 38, is one of more than twenty thousand people who have come through the doors of Baltimore's Center for Urban Families (CFUF), where fatherhood and employment courses re-order their ideas about what a man's life can mean to his family and to the neighborhoods they call home.

The center operates out of an angular, bastion-like building here in Sandtown, where Thomas was a boy. "It was wild," he says. "It was drugs on every corner. It was people getting killed." But in the center's halls, people carry themselves with a refined confidence. They show up on time and sit around boardroom tables, or in large, university-like classrooms. And Thomas, like everybody else, is wearing a suit and tie. "The training wasn't just about training for a job," he says. "It was about succeeding in life."

Founded in 1999 by a former drug addict, the Center for Urban Families has become a model for how to reach urban men, perhaps the country's most underserved demographic. Here in a community that many think of as a "city of neighborhoods," the center's work targets the hardest of these, the street corners that have found infamy as the backdrop of popular television crime shows like The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Streets.

Continue reading »

'A Small Committed Minority of Believers'

February 18, 2014

(Shawn Dove is campaign manager for the Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement. In a December 2012 Newsmaker interview with PND, he discussed the report Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys.)

Headshot_Shawn Dove_A generation ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted in Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community?, the last book he published before he was assassinated, that "it will take…a small committed minority [of believers] to work unrelentingly to win the uncommitted majority. Such a group may well transform America's greatest dilemma into her most glorious opportunity."

The great dilemma that King wrote about in 1967 still gnaws at the roots of a nation that was founded on a premise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but was built on a foundation of racial and gender inequality. And while today no single group of people in America can claim that it alone is marginalized — sadly, there are many such groups — it is hard to dispute that disparities faced by black men and boys across a number of indicators, including incarceration, academic achievement, and unemployment, paint a picture of their systemic exclusion from the American mainstream.

The thorny issue of black men and their standing in American society is, of course, not a new one. Yet in light of recent advances in the emerging field of black male achievement, there is reason to hope that the small committed minority of believers who have been working hard to improve the life outcomes and perceptions of black men and boys are swaying the majority of non-believers.

By now, most people have heard that President Obama intends to launch a significant new effort "to bolster the lives of young men of color" in America. Building on momentum that has been growing over recent years, the public rollout of My Brother's Keeper, as the initiative is called, represents a bold response to the challenges confronting so many young men of color. Without a doubt, this is an historic moment for the work and aspirations of many leaders working within and outside philanthropy who have devoted their lives to creating an America where black men and boys can compete on an even playing field of opportunity and realize their full potential.

Continue reading »

For the Success of Boys and Men of Color, A Call to Action

January 29, 2014

(Kenneth H. Zimmerman is director of U.S. programs for the Open Society Foundations. This post was first published on Open Society's Voices blog.)

Headshot_Ken_ZimmermanIn this year's State of the Union address, President Obama opened the door to an opportunity that may be a game changer for millions of boys and men of color in America.

In his speech, President Obama said he believes in the fundamental importance of transforming the lives of young men and boys of color and is committed to bolstering and reinforcing government and private partnerships to work on the issue.

We welcome and are heartened by the president's commitment and recognition that a key part of the effort to increase opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race and gender, is to focus explicitly on helping boys and men of color succeed.

Young men of color face systemic economic, social, and political barriers in their everyday lives. As a result, too many of them are denied educational opportunity, become unemployed, or, worse, face incarceration.

In spite of these barriers, we see men and boys of color overcome the odds on a regular basis —graduating at the top of their classes, achieving leadership positions in corporations, becoming business owners, and being wonderful fathers to their families and valuable members of their communities. They are vital assets to our country, and investing in pathways to build opportunity for them will deliver significant economic and civic benefits to the nation as a whole.

Continue reading »

Contributors

Quote of the Week

  • "The form of the monster on whom I had bestowed existence was for ever before my eyes, and I raved incessantly concerning him...."

    — Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

Subscribe to Philantopic

Contributors

Guest Contributors

  • Laura Cronin
  • Derrick Feldmann
  • Thaler Pekar
  • Kathryn Pyle
  • Nick Scott
  • Allison Shirk

Tweets from @PNDBLOG

Follow us »

Archives

Other Blogs

Tags